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Evidence of meeting #36 for Subcommittee on International Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was sanctions.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Aung Din  Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

1:35 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

Not exactly, but I believe that she's...[Inaudible--Editor]. Those governments made an historic visit. They went to see Aung San Suu Kyi and then they told her about this, about that. I don't think they gave her all the information she needed.

Also, I don't think she has the time to consult with her colleagues about the pros and cons or lifting, or easing, or suspension, or whatever. For the moment she endorses David Cameron's call for suspension of the sanctions. She told us, suspension is...[Inaudible--Editor]...get better. But suspension is actually window dressing, right? This is a kind of diplomatic way of actually lifting sanctions. You suspend them and they will never come back.

If you allow the businessmen to set foot in Burma, they will never come out. When the Canadian foreign minister says, okay, we are ready to reimpose sanctions...but if he does, he will find it very difficult. The current Canadian business community who are already in Burma will not agree, will oppose any kind of reimposing of sanctions. So suspension is kind of diplomatic work or window-dressing work...[Inaudible--Editor]...lifting, totally.

So I believe she's not well informed or fully informed. Aung San Suu Kyi has not had the chance to consult with many other people.

The second point is that when those decisions are made by foreign governments, they only go see Aung San Suu Kyi, but they don't consult with the ethnic leaders. They are actually key stakeholders in Burma politics. Before they make such an important decision for the country, they should consult with ethnic leaders inside and outside the country. They basically left out of consultations those key stakeholders in the making of the political decisions. It's very sad.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Din, you spent a lot of time in your testimony talking about hard-liners and cronies. Yesterday Vice-President Tin Aung Myint Oo stepped down.

Do you see him being removed as a positive sign?

1:40 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

First, as a human being, I feel sad for him. I understand that he came back from Singapore where he was getting treatment for cancer. His cancer is so dangerous now and that's why he submitted his resignation. But it isn't official yet. They haven't made an official announcement yet. So as a human being, I sympathize with him.

There are so many hard-liners. If Tin Aung Myint Oo goes, then new hard-liners will come in. Don't forget, Tin Aung Myint Oo was elected, and nominated by the military bloc, during their presidential elections. I think you know about that, right? They have the combination of the lower house and the upper house, which become the electoral college. They were divided into three. One is an elected person from the lower house; another is an elected person from the upper house; and another is a military representative sitting in the lower and upper house.

After one nomination each, there were the three candidates for the presidency. After that, the electoral college made a vote. The guy who got the most votes became the president, which was Thein Sein. Tin Aung Myint Oo was nominated by the military. He got the second most votes.

According to the constitution, if Tin Aung Myint Oo resigns, then the military will have a chance to nominate one of their own to this position. So one hard-liner goes, but a new hard-liner will come in.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Scott Reid

We'll now go to Ms. Murray.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Din, for your testimony.

I lived in South Africa and came here to Canada for grade 3. I, of course, watched with great interest the process that led to democracy in South Africa. My colleague, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, was part of the legal team working with former President Nelson Mandela.

Have you studied the process, that long road to democracy that included international sanctions and other measures that Canada participated in? Can you give us some parallels or some lessons learned from the South African experience and what worked and how that can be applied in the situation with your country?

1:40 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

One thing that's different is that in South Africa, it was whites and blacks—white occupiers and black residents. This was the fight between them, right? But in Burma, we are fighting among Burmese. The Burmese military who rule the country are also Burmese. We are fighting against them, not foreigners. This is something different.

What I really admire about South Africa is its long journey to freedom. I really understand that international pressure successfully helped them to be free from the apartheid era. It was our dream. We've learned from the South African experience. We apply it in every way possible to our country's situation. But the international community is so divided in the case of Burma. Actually, in South Africa at an earlier stage, the international community was quite divided, but later they came to unite and put political pressure on the apartheid regime.

In Burma, still, the international community is quite divided. But they are wanting to see the success story, and Burma has been changing, so they want to take opportunity to assure the political success. That's why so many government leaders make so many historic visits to my country. Finally, I believe that historic visits can't do the historical mistake of untimely lifting of economic sanctions, which is our immediate leverage.

I really admire the South African movement, but unfortunately there is a lot of difference between our two countries.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Okay. Thank you for that.

One quick comment about that is that the white-black and white-coloured struggles were not about foreigners, because most of the whites had lived there for generations, if not hundreds of years. But I take your point that there are some different, race-based elements in South Africa.

1:45 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

If I made a mistake, I'm sorry about that.

May 8th, 2012 / 1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

In talking about leverage, first I want to congratulate you, on behalf of your country, for the progress that has been made and the ability to have some democratic byelections take place. Clearly you're looking for a staged-in improvement.

For every country, democracy is a dynamic issue, and we always need to work on it. In Canada we have that challenge as well. We have disagreements as to whether certain mechanisms, such as omnibus budget bills, are democratic or not democratic. Those conversations are not over in Canada either.

As a dynamic process, one thing I noted in your presentation is that you listed some things you would like Canada to support. Are there more details somewhere else that include measures? How would you actually measure what you're asking to have done?

For example, the list of designated persons and entities would include more cronies and hard-liners. Do you have numbers, do you have particulars on that?

By the same token, when you're talking about restoring sanctions, there are probably stages. Have you identified exactly what it is you're asking of the Canadian government, such that there can be some acknowledgement of the progress that's been made but that there can be leverage for additional steps, so that it's not all or nothing?

Where would the documents be that had those kinds of specific measures that you're asking for, so that Canada can go back and say, yes, that was accomplished, or no, it wasn't accomplished in an objective and measurable way?

1:45 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

As I said in my testimony, I support the measured engagement approach to the changes in the country. Mainly, my position is not too fast and not too slow; also, not too much and not too little.

How can we balance between too much and too little and too fast and too slow? This is something that your government or other governments have to decide. But when you have made the decision, I hope you will have consulted with civil society and key stakeholders about how to move forward. It is something I shall be encouraging. At the same time, it is something that should not be too rewarding. This is a very thin line.

But look at the Canadian lifting of sanctions. It lifts all, except the arms embargo. Even the European Union, when they suspended sanctions, didn't lift in the extractive industries, because those are entirely related to major human rights violations. That's why the European Union did not lift the sanctions on the extractive industries centres. The United States is doing the same. That's why the Canadian government should consider restoring sanctions on these centres.

You asked me about the designated persons. This is something I am arguing about with the United States government in Washington, D.C., too. The United States government has a specially designated nation list, an SDN list, which is for targeted sanctions. The Canadian government has a similar list.

I looked at those lists. The United States list on Burma is about 20 pages long, with about 500 entries—names and organizations. But there are so many repeated entries. So I cleaned it up, and finally I ended with only 25 former and current officials of the regime and five family members, twelve crony business person entries, eleven state enterprises, and four military co-enterprises on the United States SDN list.

I looked at the Canadian list. It's the same thing; there are only 40 persons from the regime, current and former, plus the cronies.

These are not enough. There are so many more in Burma. They are still at large from the United States and Canadian and any other sanctions.

So when you are lifting the sanctions, you have to update the designated person list and you have to include more cronies and who were not on the list.

I have the list I submitted to the United States government. I will submit it to you guys too, for your reference.

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Do I have more time, Mr. Chair?

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Scott Reid

[Inaudible]

Ms. Grewal, please.

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Conservative Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Din, for coming today and sharing your insight into the human rights situation in Burma.

I understand that under the 2008 constitution a quarter of the seats in both parliamentary chambers are reserved for the military and that three ministerial posts—interior, defence, as well as border affairs—must be held by serving generals in the army. This means to entrench the military, giving it undue influence in the government.

Under the current climate of change, is there any hope for constitutional reform?

1:50 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

It will be very difficult.

The military is above the law, and it has the right to interfere in every executive and judiciary and legislative power. The commander-in-chief has the power to run the military. The military we call “armed forces”, which means only the army, the navy, and the air force—police forces, customs, immigration, fire brigades, and even the Red Cross. The Red Cross is considered an auxiliary force.

On March 27, they called for an armed forces day. There was a military parade, including the police, fire brigades, and the Red Cross. They all wore uniforms and they all made up the parade.

He is the commander-in-chief for all armed forces in the country. He is the one who allows people to join the armed forces as he deems fit.

Under the constitution, the commander-in-chief is duly appointed by the National Defence and Security Council, which is considered to be the highest body within the government. It's similar to the Chinese Communist Party's Central Military Commission. They are the ones who make the final decisions.

Among the 11 members of the NDSC, the commander-in-chief has six posts that.... There's commander-in-chief, deputy commander-in-chief, minister of defence, minister for home affairs, minister for border area affairs, plus one vice-president who is nominated by the military bloc in the parliament. So among 11 members, they already have six posts. This is the way he controls the government structure.

In terms of how they appoint this commander-in-chief, there is no provision, no clause, on how to terminate the commander-in-chief in the constitution. There is no way mentioned about how to dismantle this commander-in-chief.

So he is the one who is holding the power without showing the official capacity. Then they made it difficult to amend the constitution by saying that we must get more than 75% of the vote. Actually, on some major issues, major provisions, more than a 75% vote is not enough. They go to a referendum and get the majority of the votes from the people in the referendum, so two steps.

That's why when, personally, I was very sad when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi...[Inaudible--Editor]...in this election, because I don't see any point that we can change the conditions within this military control framework.

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Nina Grewal Conservative Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Burma in December 2011. She said that some travel and financial restrictions would be relaxed and that the Burmese leaders would be allowed to visit the U.S.

The U.S. is naming an ambassador to Burma and establishing an office for a U.S. agency for international development. The U.S. also announced that it would now allow financial transactions in support of certain humanitarian and non-profit activities.

Australia also announced that it will ease travel and financial restrictions on about 250 Burmese nationals, including President U Thein Sein.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who visited Burma just a couple of weeks ago, announced that the U.K. is considering suspending sanctions.

In light of all the change that has already taken place in Burma, are other countries correct to suspend economic sanctions? Are you aware of this?

1:55 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

Yes, I know that sanctions were imposed only by the United States, Australia, Canada, and the European Union. No other countries imposed sanctions on Burma. And many of the previous sanctions are being eased, suspended, or lifted. That's why we mentioned to the United States government that it was doing too much, too fast. This is quite frustrating.

Since they have been this easing of sanctions, we can now ask these governments to make a list of designated nations or whatever names they call them. They must make a list to make businesses avoid dealing with these people, and start a transition with them. There were many companies doing business in Burma. We can only try to control the damage. This is all we can request.

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Scott Reid

Thank you very much.

Monsieur Jacob, you are batting cleanup for us today.

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Din, thank you for coming to shed some light on the situation in Burma. Do you think there are some human rights in Burma that are not getting enough international attention? Could you tell us which issues are involved and why you think they are important?

1:55 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

When we talk about the situation in Burma, there are two issues. One is the lack of democracy and human rights, and the second is national reconciliation. Burma is a country with the longest-running civil war in the world, since 1948. So we might have democracy and human rights, but we cannot achieve national reconciliation without settling this divider among the nationalities. I believe this is a major issue.

Without addressing this major issue of the ethnic nationalities, we cannot achieve anything. Even though we have democracy and human rights, we will not be happy. We will not be unified. We will still feel guilty for failure to settle this major issue.

Actually, I'm from the Burma majority. I didn't realize that the sufferings of ethnic nationalities many years ago. Now I realize that a Burma majority has a duty to address the plight of the Burma ethnic nationalities. This is a major issue for me, and this is a major issue for all the democracy advocates now.

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Thank you, Mr. Din.

My second question is about the last sentence of your interesting brief. It reads as follows:

Encouraging the so-called reformers in the regime should not undermine democracy activists, ethnic nationalities and human rights' defenders, the true agents of change in Burma.

I am a bit puzzled by this. Could you expand on your opinion regarding this last sentence?

1:55 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

First, many governments now believe that President U Thein Sein is a reformer, that U Shwe Mann is a reformer, and many others share the same sentiment.

For me, I don't really believe it yet. I want to see more evidence before I call them real reformers.

For me, this is a kind of tactic they are playing. You set up the political system, which allows you to control all the power. The political system you created and designed is now on the ground, up and running. The next step is to make this system credible, legitimate, and try to get international recognition. So now you give some seats to the opposition. You invite the opposition to join into your system, and you allow them a place, with some voice.

For example, now we have the democratic NLDs. They have access to the power, but it's a power that remains unchanged in the hands of the military and the USDP. So you allowed them to join into the system, hear their advice, but they will not achieve anything. You are the one who will hold the power in the end.

This is a kind of tactic. So when President U Thein Sein offered Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to look at the offer...[Inaudible--Editor]...register your party; I will change the language of the political party registration law contesting the election. When you are in the parliament, you can change whatever you want.

This similar offer goes to the ethnic nationality groups. Let's stop shooting, okay? Let's have a cease-fire agreement. Found a party, join in contesting the election, join the parliament, then raise your concerns in the system.

But the system is already designed to make it difficult to amend the constitution.

So where they are, in there, they will be contained, co-opted, and then finally they will not achieve anything.

Maybe they will go further, I'm not sure yet, but at this moment, I cannot believe they are real reformers. I want the world to share my feelings. Let's see more evidence from them before we call them real reformers.

Before we are certain that they are really reformers, I don't want to lose any kind of leverage that we have right now.

2 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

What do you think are the most pressing development challenges in Burma today?

2 p.m.

Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din

That development comes together with the...right now. With land confiscation, with making people landless, with making people lose their homes, lose their villages, and lose their status, development is actually an important issue. Burma is one of the least developed countries in the world, so we would like to see our country developed.

But how will we have the country develop when you don't have the rule of law, you don't have proper business guidelines, and you don't have a governance system that grants equal opportunity for all the people inside the country?

When you make a visit there, when you go for development, development can go in the wrong direction. Now, actually, when many people go to Burma and they come back, they say, oh, Burma is totally different from North Korea. Exactly. We are different countries. You can see people in Burma on the street smiling and walking. You also can see the highest high-rise building there and you can also see the development projects here and there. But those development projects were built by the expenditures of the people, ordinary people.

These are the major challenges for the development. We must have the government for the people, by the people, of the people. We must have the rule of law. We must have the proper system that protects the environment, people, and the social affairs of the people of Burma. Without them, we don't see good development, the right development, in our country.

2 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Scott Reid

Thank you, Mr. Jacob.

Mr. Din, thank you very much. We have just come to the end of our time. We're very grateful that you were able to take the time to be here and provide us with another point of view on the very important and changing situation in your home country. Many thanks to your and to your organization for coming here today.

We are adjourned.